ALBANY, N.Y. -- Expectations reached dizzying levels before it was time to carve the Thanksgiving turkey.
Quinnipiac didn't lose until just before Christmas break.
On Easter Sunday, 40 games into the season and with a spot in the Frozen Four on the line, Quinnipiac hockey had endured only three losses.
Pressure? Squandered opportunity? For a team that long ago figured out how to win, and firmly believes in each other, those are foreign concepts.
"I never really thought about it," junior forward Tim Clifton said when asked if he ever considered what might have happened if the Bobcats failed to live up to those lofty Frozen Four expectations. "We've accomplished a lot this year, obviously we to want to accomplish more. But I don't know how to answer because we're going down there."
Tampa, Florida, site of the Frozen Four, is the next stop thanks to a dominating 4-1 victory over UMass Lowell on Sunday night in the East Regional final at the Times Union Center.
Quinnipiac (31-3-7), making its second trip to college hockey's showcase event in four years, will face Boston College on April 7 at 5 p.m. Denver and North Dakota play in the nightcap. The winners meet for the national championship on April 9.
"This is what you play for," Clifton said. "You play for the 30 guys in the room with you; you play for the coaching staff; for the fans. When everyone buys into doing it for each other? That makes for a dangerous team. Right now I think we are."
Sam Anas, suffering through a shoulder injury that left him as a game-time decision both nights at the East Regional, may not have been anywhere near 100 percent. Still, he got back to his usual role as offensive catalyst, setting up Landon Smith for the tying goal and scoring the go-ahead on arguably his finest goal of the season.
Michael Garteig, a night after shutting out RIT, needed only 14 saves to cap a phenomenal weekend in which he was named the regional's most outstanding player.
Freshman Scott Davidson scored a clutch goal for the second time in two nights; defenseman Devon Toews was a force at both ends of the ice.
It was, in every sense, a team victory. But that's what's made this team so effective; so deep; so good.
"It's been an amazing year," team captain Soren Jonzzon said. "At this point in time, it's another feather in our cap. This was arguably one of our best 60 minute performances of the year. We came into the locker room after the first period down a goal, and we were literally saying if we keep playing exactly how we're playing, we're going to get our chances and we're going to get our goals."
Indeed, Quinnipiac trailed 1-0 after the first period, but turned up the heat in the second, scoring three impressive goals to take a 3-1 lead.
Anas, who'd taken a penalty in the first that led to the RiverHawk goal, found himself in the box again midway through the second. He exited and set up Landon Smith's snap wrist shot from the top of the circles to tie the game with 9:27 left.
Just 1:38 later Anas, leading a 2-on-1 break, scored a highlight reel goal, dangling the puck as he closed in on Kevin Boyle before going backhand to chip one over the shoulder of Hockey East's co-player of the year.
Davidson closed the scoring in the period with a precision shot at a difficult angle. From the bottom of the right circle, he found a puck-sized hole between Boyle's shoulder and the crossbar and buried his ninth goal of the season.
"It feels pretty good right now," Anas said. "We've been No. 1 throughout most of the year. It feels good to solidify that and to complete this. The journey's not done yet, but getting to Tampa is a huge goal we had. We're going down there not to get a tan, but to win it all."